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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XIV. THE SCHOOLROOM.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


OLD Simmons, the butler, woke him.

|I was afraid something was the matter, sir. They tell me you did not come down last night; and breakfast has been waiting you two hours.|

|I should not have known where to find it,| said Donal. |The knowledge of an old castle is not intuitive.|

|How long will you take to dress?| asked Simmons.

|Ten minutes, if there is any hurry,| answered Donal.

|I will come again in twenty; or, if you are willing to save an old man's bones, I will be at the bottom of the stair at that time to take charge of you. I would have looked after you yesterday, but his lordship was poorly, and I had to be in attendance on him till after midnight.|

Donal thought it impossible he should of himself have found his way to the schoolroom. With all he could do to remember the turnings, he found the endeavour hopeless, and gave it up with a not unpleasing despair. Through strange passages, through doors in all directions, up stairs and down they went, and at last came to a long, low room, barely furnished, with a pleasant outlook, and immediate access to the open air. The windows were upon a small grassy court, with a sundial in the centre; a door opened on a paved court. At one end of the room a table was laid with ten times as many things as he could desire to eat, though he came to it with a good appetite. The butler himself waited upon him. He was a good-natured old fellow, with a nose somewhat too red for the ordinary wear of one in his responsible position.

|I hope the earl is better this morning,| said Donal.

|Well, I can't say. He's but a delicate man is the earl, and has been, so long as I have known him. He was with the army in India, and the sun, they say, give him a stroke, and ever since he have headaches that bad! But in between he seems pretty well, and nothing displeases him more than ask after his health, or how he slep the night. But he's a good master, and I hope to end my days with him. I'm not one as likes new faces and new places! One good place is enough for me, says I -- so long as it is a good one. -- Take some of this game pie, sir.|

Donal made haste with his breakfast, and to Simmons's astonishment had ended when he thought him just well begun.

|How shall I find master Davie?| he asked.

|He is wild to see you, sir. When I've cleared away, just have the goodness to ring this bell out of that window, and he'll be with you as fast as he can lay his feet to the ground.|

Donal rang the handbell. A shout mingled with the clang of it. Then came the running of swift feet over the stones of the court, and Davie burst into the room.

|Oh, sir,| he cried, |I am glad! It is good of you to come!|

|Well, you see, Davie,| returned Donal, |everybody has got to do something to carry the world on a bit: my work is to help make a man of you. Only I can't do much except you help me; and if I find I am not making a good job of you, I shan't stop many hours after the discovery. If you want to keep me, you must mind what I say, and so help me to make a man of you.|

|It will be long before I am a man!| said Davie rather disconsolately.

|It depends on yourself. The boy that is longest in becoming a man, is the boy that thinks himself a man before he is a bit like one.|

|Come then, let us do something!| said Davie.

|Come away,| rejoined Donal. |What shall we do first?|

|I don't know: you must tell me, sir.|

|What would you like best to do -- I mean if you might do what you pleased?|

Davie thought a little, then said:

|I should like to write a book.|

|What kind of a book?|

|A beautiful story.|

|Isn't it just as well to read such a book? Why should you want to write one?|

|Because then I should have it go just as I wanted it! I am always -- almost always -- disappointed with the thing that comes next. But if I wrote it myself, then I shouldn't get tired of it; it would be what pleased me, and not what pleased somebody else.|

|Well,| said Donal, after thinking for a moment, |suppose you begin to write a book!|

|Oh, that will be fun! -- much better than learning verbs and nouns!|

|But the verbs and nouns are just the things that go to make a story -- with not a few adjectives and adverbs, and a host of conjunctions; and, if it be a very moving story, a good many interjections! These all you have got to put together with good choice, or the story will not be one you would care to read. -- Perhaps you had better not begin till I see whether you know enough about those verbs and nouns to do the thing decently. Show me your school-books.|

|There they all are -- on that shelf! I haven't opened one of them since Percy came home. He laughed at them all, and so Arkie -- that's lady Arctura, told him he might teach me himself. And he wouldn't; and she wouldn't -- with him to laugh at her. And I've had such a jolly time ever since -- reading books out of the library! Have you seen the library, Mr. Grant?|

|No; I've seen nothing yet. Suppose we begin with a holiday, and you begin by teaching me!|

|Teaching you, sir! I'm not able to teach you!|

|Why, didn't you as much as offer to teach me the library? Can't you teach me this great old castle? And aren't you going to teach yourself to me?|

|That would be a funny lesson, sir!|

|The least funny, the most serious lesson you could teach me! You are a book God has begun, and he has sent me to help him go on with it; so I must learn what he has written already before I try to do anything.|

|But you know what a boy is, sir! Why should you want to learn me?|

|You might as well say that, because I have read one or two books, I must know every book. To understand one boy helps to understand another, but every boy is a new boy, different from every other boy, and every one has to be understood.|

|Yes -- for sometimes Arkie won't hear me out, and I feel so cross with her I should like to give her a good box on the ear. What king was it, sir, that made the law that no lady, however disagreeable, was to have her ears boxed? Do you think it a good law, sir?|

|It is good for you and me anyhow.|

|And when Percy says, 'Oh, go away! don't bother,' I feel as if I could hit him hard! Yet, if I happen to hurt him, I am so sorry! and why then should I want to hurt him?|

|There's something in this little fellow!| said Donal to himself. |Ah, why indeed?| he answered. |You see you don't understand yourself yet!|

|No indeed!|

|Then how could you think I should understand you all at once? -- and a boy must be understood, else what's to become of him! Fancy a poor boy living all day, and sleeping all night, and nobody understanding him!|

|That would be dreadful! But you will understand me?|

|Only a little: I'm not wise enough to understand any boy.|

|Then -- but isn't that what you said you came for? -- I thought -- |

|Yes,| answered Donal, |that is what I came for; but if I fancied I quite understood any boy, that would be a sure sign I did not understand him. -- There is one who understands every boy as well as if there were no other boy in the whole world.|

|Then why doesn't every boy go to him when he can't get fair play?|

|Ah, why? That is just what I want you to do. He can do better than give you fair play even: he can make you give other people fair play, and delight in it.|

|Tell me where he is.|

|That is what I have to teach you: mere telling is not much use. Telling is what makes people think they know when they do not, and makes them foolish.|

|What is his name?|

|I will not tell you that just yet; for then you would think you knew him, when you knew next to nothing about him. Look here; look at this book,| he went on, pulling a copy of Boethius from his pocket; |look at the name on the back of it: it is the name of the man that wrote the book.|

Davie spelled it out.

|Now you know all about the book, don't you?|

|No, sir; I don't know anything about it.|

|Well then, my father's name is Robert Grant: you know now what a good man he is!|

|No, I don't. I should like to see him though!|

|You would love him if you did! But you see now that knowing the name of a person does not make you know the person.|

|But you said, sir, that if you told me the name of that person, I should fancy I knew all about him: I don't fancy I know all about your father now you have told me his name!|

|You have me there!| answered Donal. |I did not say quite what I ought to have said. I should have said that when we know a little about a person, and are used to hearing his name, then we are ready to think we know all about him. I heard a man the other day -- a man who had never spoken to your father -- talk as if he knew all about him.|

|I think I understand,| said Davie.

To confess ignorance is to lose respect with the ignorant who would appear to know. But there is a worse thing than to lose the respect even of the wise -- to deserve to lose it; and that he does who would gain a respect that does not belong to him. But a confession of ignorance is a ground of respect with a well-bred child, and even with many ordinary boys will raise a man's influence: they recognize his loyalty to the truth. Act-truth is infinitely more than fact-truth; the love of the truth infinitely beyond the knowledge of it.

They went out together, and when they had gone the round of the place outside, Davie would have taken him over the house; but Donal said they would leave something for another time, and made him lie down for ten minutes. This the boy thought a great hardship, but Donal saw that he needed to be taught to rest. Ten times in those ten minutes he was on the point of jumping up, but Donal found a word sufficient to restrain him. When the ten minutes were over, he set him an addition sum. The boy protested he knew all the rules of arithmetic.

|But,| said Donal, |I must know that you know them; that is my business. Do this one, however easy it is.|

The boy obeyed, and brought him the sum -- incorrect.

|Now, Davie,| said Donal, |you said you knew all about addition, but you have not done this sum correctly.|

|I have only made a blunder, sir.|

|But a rule is no rule if it is not carried out. Everything goes on the supposition of its being itself, and not something else. People that talk about good things without doing them are left out. You are not master of addition until your addition is to be depended upon.|

The boy found it hard to fix his attention: to fix it on something he did not yet understand, would be too hard! he must learn to do so in the pursuit of accuracy where he already understood! then he would not have to fight two difficulties at once -- that of understanding, and that of fixing his attention. But for a long time he never kept him more than a quarter of an hour at work on the same thing.

When he had done the sum correctly, and a second without need of correction, he told him to lay his slate aside, and he would tell him a fairy-story. Therein he succeeded tolerably -- in the opinion of Davie, wonderfully: what a tutor was this, who let fairies into the school-room!

The tale was of no very original construction -- the youngest brother gaining in the path of righteousness what the elder brothers lose through masterful selfishness. A man must do a thing because it is right, even if he die for it; but truth were poor indeed if it did not bring at last all things subject to it! As beauty and truth are one, so are truth and strength one. Must God be ever on the cross, that we poor worshippers may pay him our highest honour? Is it not enough to know that if the devil were the greater, yet would not God do him homage, but would hang for ever on his cross? Truth is joy and victory. The true hero is adjudged to bliss, nor can in the nature of things, that is, of God, escape it. He who holds by life and resists death, must be victorious; his very life is a slaying of death. A man may die for his opinion, and may only be living to himself: a man who dies for the truth, dies to himself and to all that is not true.

|What a beautiful story!| cried Davie when it ceased. |Where did you get it, Mr. Grant?|

|Where all stories come from.|

|Where is that?|

|The Think-book.|

|What a funny name! I never heard it! Will it be in the library?|

|No; it is in no library. It is the book God is always writing at one end, and blotting out at the other. It is made of thoughts, not words. It is the Think-book.|

|Now I understand! You got the story out of your own head!|

|Yes, perhaps. But how did it get in to my head?|

|I can't tell that. Nobody can tell that!|

|Nobody can that never goes up above his own head -- that never shuts the Think-book, and stands upon it. When one does, then the Think-book swells to a great mountain and lifts him up above all the world: then he sees where the stories come from, and how they get into his head. -- Are you to have a ride to-day?|

|I ride or not just as I like.|

|Well, we will now do just as we both like, I hope, and it will be two likes instead of one -- that is, if we are true friends.|

|We shall he true friends -- that we shall!|

|How can that be -- between a little boy like you, and a grown man like me?|

|By me being good.|

|By both of us being good -- no other way. If one of us only was good, we could never be true friends. I must be good as well as you, else we shall never understand each other!|

|How kind you are, Mr. Grant! You treat me just like another one!| said Davie.

|But we must not forget that I am the big one and you the little one, and that we can't be the other one to each other except the little one does what the big one tells him! That's the way to fit into each other.|

|Oh, of course!| answered Davie, as if there could not be two minds about that.

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